BEIRUT – The recent Israeli strike in Syria, which apparently targeted a weapons convoy headed to Hezbollah in Lebanon, raised concerns in Lebanon that the attack signaled the beginning of a new phase in the tension along the border with Israel.
Elements in Lebanon feared Hezbollah or Syria would decide to retaliate in some way to the Israeli strike and bring about a wide-scale military conflict that would take place, as it has in the past, on Lebanese soil.
The attack was apparently launched as part of the Israeli government's "red line" policy, which determines that Israel will act with resolve to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah. Another explanation is that the attack was yet another attempt by Israel to restore its deterrence and therefore does not indicate an end to the relative calm that has existed along the Israel-Lebanon border since the Second Lebanon War ended in August 2006.
Either way, the attack conveyed a clear message to Hezbollah, Syria and Iran – that Israel will not stand idly by as the situation in Syria deteriorates and may actively intervene to protect its interests. Israel's top priority, the attack showed, was to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining Syrian weapons that will disrupt the existing balance of power.
Israel is not looking to escalate tensions with Hezbollah due to the developments in Syria, because Israel believes the bloody conflict in Syria serves its interests, as it weakens Assad's regime and at the same time hurts both Hezbollah and Iran.
We cannot ignore the fact that the airstrike in Syria signals Israel's departure from the covert shadow war it has been waging against Hezbollah since July 2006 towards an open conflict. Moreover, as the attack was clearly an act of provocation, it serves as a test of the ability of Hezbollah and its leader to restrain themselves amid the new situation in the region.
Will Hezbollah act like an armed militia and try to retaliate, thereby putting all of Lebanon in danger, or will it act responsibly as a partner in the Lebanese leadership and put the public's interest before its own?
While Israel is apparently not interested in an armed conflict with Hezbollah at this point, past experience has taught us that anything can happen and that no scenario should be ruled out, particularly in light of the Israeli army's heightened alertness level.
Randa Haidar is a Lebanese political analyst. Her article was published in the Al-Nahar newspaper and was translated to Hebrew as part of a project initiated by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the I`lam Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel in Nazareth